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No daily bread in Ballinrobe

South of the border

Willie McHugh

IT’S becoming an all too familiar repetitive refrain. Another curtain closing and another era ending in a south Mayo town. Last Friday night a Ballinrobe bakery of sixty-one years baking turned off the ovens for what seems, for now at least, the final time.
The bread stocking the shelves of the supermarkets and the last few small shops still trading in this region will come from a bakery in Wexford. Bringing bread to a bakery is akin to carrying apples to an orchard or turf to the bog, but that’s the legacy of an economy gone completely out of kilter.
It’s hard to comprehend really because time was when Ballinrobe could muster business enough to sustain three bakeries. And that in an epoch when people were self-sufficient before such ideology became the mantra of the yuppie.
Western Pride started out when John O’Connor and his sons came to the town over sixty-one years ago. They hailed from the village of Ower, one of Mayo’s last outposts along where the Black River acts as a bordering line with Galway as it meanders its way to Lough Corrib.
The O’Connor’s were two years baking in Ballinrobe before their sister, Nellie, joined them in the running of the business. She married Jim Keady from her native heath. Jim became a bread delivery man in the family run business.
Volkswagen vans delivering freshly-baked bread, apple tarts, buns and cakes was an everyday sighting in the towns and villages of Galway, Mayo and counties beyond. No Facebook or Twitter then. Life strummed to a simpler plectrum. ‘Ballinrobe 74’ was the number on the van door with the illustration of a phone alongside it. Western Pride became a household name and a strand in the social fabric of this bailiwick.
In the soundings of the morning, the late Frank O’Toole shared jokes and good rapport with the shopkeepers he served. With yarns from the roads he’s travelled and the people he met, Pat Duddy will regale you long into the night. And whenever we hear mention of ‘Bell Harbour’ we’ll think of Luke Carney and all the lovely stories he tells about Miss Daly and more innocent but better times.
And if you’re ever disturbed in the slumber of the night it might well by the ghostly hum of an old Mercedes lorry and Padraic Moran hitting south to Ballybunion by the sea.
Or Tom Burke or John Murphy, perhaps, heading to Limerick and pacifying a contrary doorman at the back of a character-lacking Quinnsworth, Dunnes or Tesco outlet.
This week Nellie Keady looks out on an empty yard and ovens that no longer fire and a sighting she never envisaged. But a lovely happening ensued on Friday evening last when some departing staff dropped into her kitchen to bid her a fond farewell.
And that’s as it should be because Nellie Keady ever had their best interest at heart. She was the mothering influence. And it’s for them and their plight her heart is heaviest this week.
Spare a thought too for Agnes O’Connor on the other gable and the kitchen window she looks out from. We’ve been lambasted with long-winded rhetoric and palaver sounded by those entrusted to legislate for us. They fobbed everyone off talking idly about task forces and retraining. But the stark reality is the sixty-one years of the busy days and nights that a Ballinrobe oven baked bread is over and done.

Martin Flannery RIP
SHOCK and sadness numbed the Ballinrobe region further on Friday last as news filtered through of the passing of Martin Flannery of Kilkeeran.  Never offensive but ever jovial his burst of hearty laughter was his trademark. But Martin Flannery only laughed with you and never at you.
Mayo and Ballinrobe ruled his footballing heart and he was happiest stewarding or watching a match above in ‘The Lough’. He’ll be missed and fondly remembered but it’s his wife Eileen, sons Alan, Adrian and David, brothers Pat, Enda and Johnny and the grandchildren he adored who’ll miss him most of all.